close for comfort?
by Verónica Villafañe
Inside the KVEA/KWHY duopoly! Veronica Villafane talks
with News Director Al Corral and laid off KWHY Anchor/Reporter
With FCC easing regulations and allowing duopolies, we're
starting to see a change hit some newsrooms across the country.
Although the purchase of Chris Craft by Rupert Murdoch's Fox
Corp. has been high profile, another duopoly is already in
effect in Los Angeles. Will they set the example?
It became official on June 1, 2001. Telemundo Network purchased
KWHY-22. The next day, the new owners axed 50 people from
the staff. KVEA employees were also affected, losing another
15. That was the first round of layoffs. Out in the field,
the news spread quickly - "can you believe it?" "poor people!"
"is that going to happen to us?" were some of the comments
among reporters, photographers and producers at other stations.
"In a situation where there is a merger, there's always going
to be a question of where can I achieve economies," explains
Al Corral. Hired in June as news director at KVEA-52, he now
oversees two news operations. The former KCET and KPIX news
director admits he faces a great challenge. "The attitude
used to be one news director can't run two newsrooms. But
the reality is I'm here and it's happening."
For years, KWHY-22, was known as the "business channel," airing
some Spanish-language programming in the afternoon. After
a failed attempt at a newscast in 1994, KWHY-22 launched "Noticiero
22" on March 3, 1997. Many people working at the local Telemundo
and Univision stations didn't think they would survive. But
to their surprise, "Noticiero 22" gained popularity and ratings.
So much so, they expanded to three daily newscasts and the
station switched its format to Spanish only programming. How
could it be that a small news staff, with minimum resources
and no live shots was attracting a significant audience? At
one point, they were even getting better ratings than the
local Telemundo station, KVEA-52.
Talks of the purchase by Telemundo Network, owned by Sony
Pictures Entertainment and Liberty Media circulated for months
at channel 22, prior to the sale. Employees were nervous,
yet hopeful a merger would mean more opportunities for growth.
"We anticipated the change happily, with a lot of positive
They told us we would have better studios, cameras, live trucks,
equipment, more resources -- resources we never had before,"
recalls Ricardo Fernández, a KWHY anchor/reporter laid off
on June 2. "They said the news department was going to stay
intact, especially people who worked on air." That's why he
says he was surprised when news director Fernando González
called him in to his office shortly after he reported for
work the day after Telemundo took over."He tells me right
up front as a friend: 'in 10 minutes they're going to call
you upstairs and tell you bye.' He told me 'don't feel bad,
I'm gone too.' I was shocked beyond belief." Fernández
says he knows it was a business decision, nothing personal,
but after almost four years in the "Noticias 22" team, it
was hard to let go.
"I just know that in the TV world you never have a safe job.
Today you're here, tomorrow you're not. It's about the management.
If you don't fit their profile, you're out. It took me a month
to get over it. Actually, I'm still getting over it, although
I'm moving on to another job." For
those who remained, it was difficult to deal with the loss
of so many colleagues and with the uncertainty of their future.
News director Corral says he is aware of their fears. "All
you can do is be direct and honest... I had a lot of meetings
with people at 22 and 52, to acknowledge uncertain times."
On Monday, August 20 all channel 22 news employees were moved
to the KVEA-52 newsroom in Glendale. They now share quarters
with the "Noticiero 52" news staff. Channel 52 and 22 reporters,
producers and writers are now working side by side, in an
attempt by management to integrate all their employees. But
despite efforts by Telemundo to welcome the KWHY workers into
their new home - they held a welcome barbecue their first
day in the KVEA building and meetings with the combined news
staff - many 22 employees don't feel comfortable.
A previously tight-knit group is spread over a foreign newsroom.
"It just isn't the same, we feel like we're in someone else's
home," pointed out one employee. "Should I bring my pictures?"
wondered another, about placing the faces of their loved ones
at their new desks. Life has also changed for the KVEA staff.
In preparation for the merger, producers, writers and anchors
were crammed into the conference room for several weeks, having
to share desks, phones and computers as the station underwent
a major reconstruction of their facilities.
Now, their newsroom is a lot busier and louder, with 110 people
aboard. Production schedules had to be adjusted to accommodate
six newscasts in seven hours. 52 staffers also have a lot
"People shouldn't have expectations that everyone's going
to be their new best friend right away," states Corral. "There's
only so much you can do. At this point, I don't sense any
Although Corral says he doesn't foresee any more layoffs,
some employees fear that may be the case, as both news teams
continue the consolidation process and adjust to the new challenge
of producing a total of 7 newscasts at 6:00am,11:30 am, 4:30
pm, 6:00 pm, 7:00 pm, 10:00 pm and 11:00 pm.
"Al Filo de la Noticia," a half-hour, high impact news video
show, rounds up their local daily live programming. There's
only 2 newscasts on weekends - at 6:00 and 11:00 pm on channel
52, but they also produce two live sports shows. The sets
for all those shows are in one studio, with some production
crews working on back to back newscasts airing on two different
stations. Is it going to work out? "It's hard to say. We're
looking at things day to day," says Corral. Well, so far,
they've pulled it off. People watching at home can't tell
the difference. Only those who work there are aware of the
goes on," says ex-KWHY employee Fernández. "I wish my friends
(22 staffers) the best of luck." The 52 and 22 news director
says there will be further expansion down the road and people
should stay tuned as they will be making surprise announcements
and talent additions that will rattle the market and give
some stiff competition to rival KMEX-34.
Now that he's managing the first working duopoly in Los
Angeles, what does he think is going to happen with the Fox-Chris
Craft merger? "It's hard to say. Our experience here is unique.
The whole Fox-13 thing is a different animal. The only thing
I can say is we're going to see more duopolies.. This strategy
is here to stay."
About the Author
Verónica Villafañe is an Emmy award-winning television writer
and reporter, with more than 12 years of research and reporting
experience. She is a journalism graduate from the University
of the Saviour, in Argentina. She can be reached by e-mail